Better Bedding & Mattress Sales
The Presentation Step
In previous issues of Furniture World we covered the following Steps of the Sale:
1. Meet and Greet
2. Qualifying the Customer
3. Selection of the Right Product
Now it's time to explain the Presentation step. Some sales trainers might argue that Presentation should not be included as part of Closing the Sale. I understand the argument, but Closing the Sale begins immediately after the customer has shown buying signals on a particular product. In my book, we call this LANDING ON THE BED. Landing on the bed is the goal and culmination of the Selection step. Once the customer is Landed, everything else is part of the Closing sequence.
Before we go any further in our discussion, let me say that the RSA (Retail Sales Associate) CANNOT close a sale unless the customer is LANDED. Asking for the sale won’t work when a customer is wandering around aimlessly, giving no buying signals, and showing no interest in anything the RSA is saying. If you find this concept hard to understand, I suggest you go to Furniture World’s on-line furninfo.com archives and read my article on the Selection step of the sale.
Presentation is explaining the features and benefits of the product that the customer has selected. (We also call the presentation step “Pitching the Bed.”) But, bear in mind, presentation is more than merely covering all the features and benefits. Presentation also means educating the customer and building enthusiasm for the new bed. These benefits have real value. They are worth more than the price. That is the point of the presentation.
The truly professional RSA will also segue these benefits into a message of better sleep, better health, and better lifestyle. This is the true value of a new, quality mattress set. This type of presentation will help convert “need” into “want.”
Allow me to repeat myself. The RSA should not explain any features and benefits of any bed UNTIL the customer is Landed on his bed of choice. Features and benefits should be presented ONLY on the bed the customer has selected. You might ask, “I thought you said, in another article, that customers compare when they shop; that they want to know the comparative value of the bed they like versus other beds on the floor, and to beds in other stores. How do you do that if you don’t talk about other beds?” Yes, I did say that. And, this comparison can begin AFTER the customer has been Landed on the bed.
At an old mattress chain where I used to work, we had a cardinal rule, “Don’t pitch the bed (present features and benefits) until the customer is Landed on the bed.” Pitching the bed should include favorable comparisons to other products, both in your own store and in competitor’s stores. It is better, however, to save these comparisons until AFTER the customer has decided which bed he likes the best.
Support The Customer’s Decision
Pitching the bed (explaining features and benefits) is done to reinforce the wisdom of the customer’s decision. If the RSA goes around talking about specs and other features randomly on every bed he shows the customer, it doesn’t take long for the customer to become confused, bored and annoyed by the whole thing. Features of other beds should be shown, as a comparison only, to enhance the customer’s perception of the bed he has selected and is willing to purchase. For example, if the customer is Landed on a $799 queen set, and that $799 queen set has some features (and therefore benefits) that are also found in a $1499 bed, the RSA is wise to point this out to the customer. When the customer finds out he is getting some $1499 benefits for only $799, he is probably going to be happier with his decision, and as a result, the sale will be easier to close.
On the other hand, if the $799 bed has features (and related benefits) that are not found in the $699 (or less) bed, the RSA should point this out in his presentation. This is another way to demonstrate added value for the money.
In the Selection step, the customer makes his decision based on feel and comfort, his realistic budget expectations, among other intangibles. The point then, of the presentation step, is to add value to the customer’s decision. Justify the price and the cost (there is a difference.) “You’ve made a good decision, and here’s why, in terms of features and benefits, that your decision makes sense and will yield greater benefits than the modest price you are paying.”
Don’t forget Control. The RSA must maintain control of the sales process. Control means focusing the customer’s attention on what the RSA is saying, and not letting his attention wander off to some distraction.
Features And Benefits
Here’s a little alliterative slogan that RSAs should try to remember: Buyers Buy Benefits. Features are Fast Forgotten.
Of course, the RSA must actually KNOW the features and benefits of a product before he can begin to recite them. This goes back to product knowledge and preparation. For the sake of this discussion, we will assume the RSA is prepared.
I’d like to suggest that each store compile a list of every conceivable feature for every SKU on their floor, and then compile a corresponding list of benefits for each feature. Some stores have a contest between the RSAs to see who can come up with the most potential benefits for each feature and product. Then, put this list on a computer, or i-Pad, or some medium that the RSA can easily access when Pitching the Bed.
I understand that not too many stores will have this sort of list. The professional RSA should memorize as much as possible about each bed and have it ready for recital, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having some lists that you carry around with you on the floor. I usually kept several lists with me, to remind me of anything important that I might overlook while working a sale.
Speaking of benefits, my old friend Gerry Morris, in his book Spring Training, makes an excellent point about how to explain features and benefits. He says that the RSA should give a benefit first, and then show how the specs (features) support and provide that benefit.
The reader might be saying at this point, “I really don’t have a list and my store hasn’t provided anything, either. What do I do now?” John F. Lawhon, in his book Selling Retail, said “Your product is your script.” So, use what you know about the product as a presentation for that product. Mr. Lawhon also urges that the presentation should really “pour on” the benefits. The more benefits, the more value the customer gets for his money. The more value he perceives, the easier it is to close.
Why Is All This Important?
The RSA might say, “Why do all this, and what does it have to do with closing the sale? Do I do this every time? When do I stop, and when do I ask for the sale?” Well, the fact is, sometimes the RSA does not have to make a presentation. Once in a while, when the customer is Landed, he suddenly pops up and says, “Can I take this with me right now?” The RSA can have several possible responses to this question. Among them are:
- “Yes, but first I have to tell you all the features and benefits of the bed. Our sales manual says this has to be done. So, here goes...” Maybe not. I agree with John F. Lawhon that the customer should understand all the benefits of his new bed. Sometimes, however, the customer doesn’t really care. The customer may be in a hurry; it may be a cheap guest room bed, etc. When the customer says “I’ll take it,” I think the RSA should write it up straightaway. Don’t risk losing your sale by over-talking. That being said, though, an experienced RSA can do a lot more selling and adding on during and after writing the ticket. Each sales situation is unique. If the RSA has the time to do a presentation and follow up with more add on sales, by all means, do it. But, respect the customer’s wishes. If he wants to load up and get going, let him.
- “Yes, but first let me see if we have it in stock.” Definitely not. The RSA who qualifies, understands the customer’s priorities, and works the Selection step correctly, already knows that the bed is in stock. If you have to go look at inventory after the sale has been virtually closed, you may have already made a fatal mistake.
But, when the customer does not preempt your presentation with an “I’ll take it” here’s WHY the RSA should proceed with a presentation.
Show that your product is better than your competitor’s product.
Show that his selection has more value than other cheaper products.
Build enthusiasm in the customer’s mind.
Interpret benefits so customers perceive improved lifestyle.
Reduce the possibility of buyer’s remorse.
Compare the great new bed to the bad old bed.
Display the RSA’s professionalism and competence.
Enhance your store’s image and encourage future purchases.
What Do what do we say in a presentation?
Presentation is a conversation; the RSA explains to the customer why he or she should buy the product. While reciting benefits (supported by features) is the point of the discussion, the RSA should not make it sound as if he is reading specs out of an assembly manual. As the RSA covers the features and benefits, he should be carefully observing the customer’s response. A positive response could be the trigger for asking for the sale. The prepared RSA should also be asking for the customer to acknowledge his presentation. Presentation is not a one-sided conversation where only the RSA speaks. Many times, the RSA is yapping away and the customer is not paying any attention. How do you get the customer to listen and acknowledge?
I like to phrase some of my presentation as a Did You Know (DYK) question. A statement of fact is easily ignored. A question, on the other hand, demands an answer (at least from a polite, interested customer.) Here are some examples.
“Did you know that this mattress has the highest coil count in the industry?” The RSA can follow this response with an explanation of the benefits of coils and in particular, high coil counts.
“Do you think that this posturized coil structure will satisfy your problem with morning back ache?” This can follow an explanation of posturized coils and their benefits.
“Did you know that this $799 queen that you like, has the same amount of memory foam as the $1199 queen?”
I don’t mean to imply that every presentation statement should be stated this way. Don’t make it monotonous. Asking for acknowledgment keeps the customer involved. Each agreement or nod from the customer moves the whole sales process closer to closing the sale.
How does the RSA know if it’s working?
As the RSA makes his presentation, he should also search for feedback on how well the customer is receiving the sales pitch. Asking for the sale is, of course, one way to find out. If the RSA is hesitant about asking for the sale, or fears that the customer has not given enough buying signals to warrant asking for the sale, a good way to measure progress in the sale is to use a convention known as the “Trial Close.” A trial close is an indirect way for the RSA to determine if the customer is warming up to the idea of buying. The trial close, rather than asking for a yes or no decision, tries to find out how the customer is currently thinking, or what the customer’s opinion is. Here are a few examples.
“Will you need your new mattress set delivered, or do you have a way to pick it up?” Most RSAs ask this question AFTER the close, but if it is used BEFORE the close, it makes an excellent trial close. A positive response, such as “I brought my pickup truck and some rope to tie it down” pretty much tells the RSA that the customer came to buy. Of course, this same information can also be extracted during the qualifying step. It is wise to remember, however, as rapport is built between RSA and customer, the customer may be willing to answer a trial close question, when he would not answer the same question in the qualifying step.
“Will you be paying cash, or would you like to hear about our great credit program?” Again, this question, when asked BEFORE the close, focuses the customer’s attention on the closing of the sale. The customer says, “I was going to use my credit card, but tell me about your finance plan.” The RSA, once again, has learned a lot about the customer’s intentions.
“What is your opinion of this bed as opposed to any other beds you have seen so far?” A positive answer to this question should be a major leap toward the close. In fact, I would certainly ask for the sale if I got a “yes” on this question.
Go back and review your qualifying questions. Also, look at my articles in Furniture World on qualifying. A lot of these qualifying questions can be re-purposed as Trial Closes.
Using Display Materials, Such As Cut-Aways
I always used cutaways, posters, padding samples, etc., when demonstrating and presenting features and benefits. In fact, I used anything the manufacturer provided. I don’t see much of these now when I visit showroom floors. Coil samples and mattress cutaways are effective means for demonstrating features which then can be translated into benefits the customer will understand.
In my book, I have an entire chapter on coil demonstrations and how to do them. I can’t begin to count how many extra sales I’ve made just by using a vivid and effective coil demo. If your store does not have these touch-and-feel sales aids, ask your sales rep to please provide them.
Another good thing about samples, cutaways, etc., is that the RSA can involve the customer directly. Invite the customer to touch and feel the samples. Any customer will pay closer attention to your presentation when you use visual and tactile sales aids.
Once in a while, manufacturers will produce a wall poster that actually contains useful information that can assist in making the sale. I’ll admit, these are rare, but if you have one hanging on your wall, make use of it. I like posters that actually convey real information, not just pictures of blissfully smiling models acting as if lying on this mattress was a bit of heaven itself.
Using Published Information
We’ve always had consumer advocate magazines that give their opinion on the quality of various products they tested. And, these can be useful, if properly interpreted and applied. Every RSA should certainly have, and be familiar with, the last several issues of Consumer Reports that evaluate mattress and bedding products. (These reports can cause controversy. I am not endorsing the information contained inside them as necessarily valid. I’m just saying the RSA should have copies and be familiar with their contents.)
In the last several years, the internet has become a rich source of information on matters relating to the bedding industry. Of particular use are studies on Sleep Deprivation, children’s bedding and many other subjects. While not all internet information is of equal validity or value, the discerning and diligent RSA can find plenty of information to build a persuasive presentation and closing argument.
Pacing the Presentation
So, how long does this presentation go on? Anywhere from seconds to hours; go until the job is done. The RSA should ask for the sale, and keep asking for the sale. An old rule of thumb I’ve used is, “the longer the customer is in the store, the better chance there is that the RSA will make the sale.”
Customers don’t always pay attention and some don’t understand the information. The RSA must be prepared to repeat and re-repeat features, benefits and supporting data for the benefits. Some studies show that listeners only absorb about 25 percent of what the speaker says. By all means, don’t go too fast. Make sure the customer is grasping the information. The RSA is not only closing, he is also educating the customer in the process. The better the customer understands an intelligent closing argument, the more likely he is to buy.
On the other hand, remember “Brevity is the soul of wit.” Don’t just keep talking because you love the sound of your voice. The point of the presentation is to Close the Sale. Don’t forget that.
We have just begun to scratch the surface on the subject of closing the sale. While closing, as a concept, is not complicated, each closing event can have its own bedeviling details that seem to constantly thwart progress. As the RSA presents, and attempts to close, the customer will invariably raise Objections, and that will be the subject of our next article on Closing the Sale.